211 hot line popular in Westmoreland, local zip code areas

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The PA 211 Southwest hot line had a surge in calls in January after taking over a referral line formerly run by Westmoreland County.

The hot line processed 560 calls from Westmoreland County residents last month. That's an increase of 440 calls since December, when county officials transferred their information- and referral-service lines to the 211 network operated by the United Way of Allegheny County.

The boost in calls necessitated the hiring of a sixth person to work in the 24-hour call center, and there's a possibility that another two could be hired soon, said Julie DeSeyn, director of PA 211 Southwest. Indiana County is projected this month to become the eighth county in the network, with three more scheduled to be linked in by the end of the year, she said.

Information about food pantries and assistance for rent and utility payments were among Westmoreland callers' biggest needs in 2012, but, DeSeyn said, the hot line connects people with a variety of social-service needs unrelated to income levels.

The hot line rolled out a new website — www.pa211sw.org — last week to enable users to search a database of more than 5,000 human service programs.

“There are a lot of across-the-board reasons people call 211,” DeSeyn said. “We want people to be able to find the help that they really need.”

In 2012, the first full-year 211 was available in Westmoreland County, the Irwin 15642 and Jeannette 15644 ZIP codes were among the five highest-ranked ZIP codes for call volume.

One hundred residents in the Irwin ZIP code called in, while 66 called from the Jeannette ZIP code.

When someone calls for help, the resource specialist taking the call often finds there are several needs for which they can offer a referral, said Dana Bauer, vice president of community investments at the United Way of Westmoreland County.

Hot line officials said they think that part of the increase in call volume in January was attributable to people who wanted to schedule appointments for volunteer income-tax assistance. The United Way recently mailed 45,000 postcards to households making between $15,000 and $49,000, Bauer said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8671 or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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